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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #106: August 12, 2003

U.S. Still Divided on Atomic Bombing

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)

Fifty-eight years have passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by U.S. nuclear attack and the division between those who support president Harry S. Truman's decision to drop the atom bomb and those who don't remains sharply divided. In many ways, U.S. media reports and the letters received in response portray an America that cannot lay to rest the demons that haunt it for being the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons.

Curiously enough, both sides argue in terms of human lives. Those who support Truman's decision argue that the bombs potentially saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers who were planning to storm Kyushu in November. Judging from the battle of Okinawa where 14,000 Americans and 200,000 Okinawans and Japanese lost their lives, the argument extends as far as to suggest that the bombs saved Japanese from having to face the U.S. onslaught as well. At the core of this thesis is the notion that Japanese military leaders were "fanatical" and were prepared to sacrifice as many as twenty million lives if they had to in order to avoid surrender. As Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times put it in his August 5 article on the issue, this position considers that, "the greatest tragedy of Hiroshima was not that so many people were incinerated in an instant, but that in a complex and brutal world, the alternatives were worse".

Those who speak in opposition to the bombings condemn the indiscriminate loss of 363,855 lives (if we include those who are still dying of bomb related illnesses), most of who were civilians. They argue that nuclear weapons are inconceivably destructive and were unnecessary when it came to Japan's surrender. This grouping believes that it was just a matter of time before Japan surrendered and explains that this process could have been sped up if the U.S. would have guaranteed the Emperor's survival as a condition to surrender. In fact, specialist Gar Alperovitz, author of "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," reveals that, "the judgment of the vast majority of top American military leaders was that the bombings were unnecessary including (among many others), Generals Eisenhower, MacArthur, LeMay and Arnold, and Adm. William D. Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of staff to the president (letter to Kristof published in the New York Times, 6 August). Those who highlight this fact try to demonstrate that the choice to use nuclear weapons, on what were primarily civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was mainly driven by political and military considerations that did not pertain directly to Japan (i.e. Soviet Union)

The debate remains unresolved because it is impossible to determine what would have happened in the event that president Truman did not authorize the use of the atom bombs. Nevertheless, it is worth talking about and discussing this immortalized moment in history not only to arrive at a "fair judgment" as Kristof suggests, but also to continue in our pursuit of the issue of responsibility when it comes to such acts of war. For, if the object of history is to learn lessons from it, accountability is a requisite.

U.S. based radio station "Democracy Now" revealed this past week that the U.S. government marked the anniversary of Hiroshima by holding a top secret summit at the U.S. Strategic Command Center in Omaha, Nebraska where it discussed plans to develop and expand its nuclear arsenal. According to their sources, the meeting aimed to rewrite the nation's nuclear policy, talk about resuming nuclear testing and build a new generation of nuclear weapons. This report coincides with the Bush administration's push to get Congress to approve a $68 million for research into advanced nuclear weapons, most particularly mini-nukes and bunker busters. All signs indicate that the U.S. government is actively pursuing a policy that would make nuclear weapons usable once again. In light of these developments, history may be repeated before we learn from its tragic lesson.

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